The Week of the Young Child — set for April 10-16 — is an annual celebration sponsored by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. The purpose is to focus public attention on the needs of young children and their families. This year’s theme: “Celebrating Our Youngest Learners.”
If you’ve been reading my columns for some time, you know many of them focus on the importance of early childhood development and supporting parents and families. New scientific research shows that environmental influences can actually affect whether and how genes are expressed. Thus, the old ideas that genes are “set in stone” or that they alone determine development have been disproved. In fact, scientists have discovered that early experiences can determine how genes are turned on and off and even whether some are expressed at all. Therefore, the experiences children have early in life — and the environments in which they have them — shape their developing brain architecture and strongly affect whether they grow up to be healthy, productive members of society.
This year, like last, each day of the Week of the Young Child is designated as a day to interact with young children through play, cooking, reading, etc. “Music Monday” encourages parents and caregivers to sing, dance, and celebrate. Through music, children develop math, language, and literacy skills. They also have fun, while being active.
“Taco Tuesday” emphasizes the importance of healthy eating and fitness in young children’s lives, at home and school. With the rise of childhood obesity, teachers and families can encourage healthy nutrition and fitness habits at home and in the classroom. Cooking together connects math with literacy skills, science and more.
“Work Together Wednesday” encourages families to work together, build together and learn together. When children build together, they explore math and science concepts and develop their social and early literacy skills. Children develop creativity, social skills and fine muscles with open-ended art projects where they can make choices, use their imaginations and create with their hands.
“Artsy Thursday” encourages parents and caregivers to engage children in creative art making. Families are children’s first and most important teachers.
“Family Friday” encourages everyone to celebrates families and recognize that they are the heart of supporting our youngest learners. All young children need and deserve high-quality early learning experiences that will prepare them for life. Week of the Young Child is an opportunity for early childhood programs across the country, including child care and Head Start programs, preschools, and elementary schools, to hold activities to bring awareness to the needs of young children.
As you read this column, I will be learning about an exciting program, “Better Brains for Babies,” from an associate professor and extension human development specialist from the University of Georgia Extension. Better Brains for Babies is a collaboration of state, local, public and private organizations dedicated to promoting awareness and education about the importance of early brain development in the healthy growth and development of infants and young children in Georgia. We have the opportunity to utilize this material in Kansas and I’m excited about the possibilities for the Frontier Extension District.
Rebecca McFarland is the family and child development extension agent for Frontier Extension District No. 11, which serves Franklin County. For more information, call her at (785) 229-3520 or email firstname.lastname@example.org